WASHINGTON, George (1732-1799). Autograph document signed ("Go: Washington"), AS PRESIDENT 29 September 1794. 2 pages, 4to, stain and small paper loss at top edge, repairs to edges catching one word, separation at creases (repairable), show-through. Counter-signed by James Donaldson.
A KIND-HEARTED SCOTSMAN FOR THE TOUGH JOB OF OVERSEEING SLAVES
An unusual Washington document--a hand-drawn contract with a carpenter whom Washington hopes will train some of his slaves. Titled "Memorandum of the allowance proposed to be made to James Donaldson, and what is expected from him," Washington agrees to provide "400 lbs. of Porke, 200 lbs. Beef, 1000 Herrings, 200 shad" per annum, along with quantities of flour and "Indian Meal." He will pay Donaldson moving costs to Mount Vernon, and equip him with "Tools with which to work, when there." He will give him "the use of a house to live in, and the Garden adjoining, and also of a [cow] to give him milk, or to allow him [Provender], if he chuses to keep one himself." Washington shows himself a strict employer in managing his laborer's time--although this is very much in keeping with the standards of the age: "When necessity requires it," Donaldson "may be absent a day, or so, but such time as he thus takes to himself, or looses, is to be made up at the years end. James Donaldson is to find his own lodging and drink. He is to work from the time it is light enough in the morning until twilight in the evening (with a proper allowance for his breakfast & dinner) wheresoever the business of the Farms at, or adjoining to Mount Vernon, shall require. And if any of the Negro Carpenters belonging to the Estate should be committed to his care and management, he will use his best endeavors to keep them to their work, & instruct them in whatsoever he, or they, may be employed about..."
Donaldson, a Scotsman recently arrived in America, met Washington in Philadelphia, sometime in September. He made such an impression on Washington that the President cancelled plans already in place to hire another carpenter in order to get Donaldson for Mount Vernon. "His character, professional knowledge, and the recommendation he brings," Washington told William Augustine Washington, "will, I conceive, answer my purpose in all respects except his unacquaintedness with negros, and the method of managing them" (quoted in Fitzpatrick, 33:515). That last point, however, proved the eventual undoing of their relationship. Just two months later, Washington complains that Donaldson, "though a good workman, and apparently an industrious man, has not spirit and activity enough to make the hands entrusted to his charge, do their duty properly..." Donaldson, in Washington's eyes, lacked the toughness to manage slaves, and exhibited too much friendliness towards them. A month later he is worried about Donaldson exhibiting "familiarities with the Negros" (Fitzpatrick, 34:45, 52). Within the year, the Scotsman was finished at Mount Vernon. A fascinating look into Washington's methods of handling the white and black laborers--free and unfree--on his plantation. Published in Fitzpatrick, 33:514-515.